Apple Genius Training Secrets Revealed!

Discussion
Sep 14, 2012

In leaking a recent copy of Apple’s "Genius Training" manual, Gizmodo writer Sam Biddle at one point described the document glowingly as "an exhaustive manual to understanding customers and making them happy." At the same time, with its role playing, suggested phrases and even banned words, he described it more darkly as a handbook in "psychological training."

The confidential manual reportedly details the intensive 14-day training period that trainees have to undergo. It includes technical skills but focuses heavily on guiding customer interactions, particularly around diffusing tense situations and subsequently empowering them.

"Show empathy," the manual advises. "Our stores are a happy place…We deepen and restore relationships, we help them discover, we enrich their lives."

A nifty acronym — (A)pproach, (P)robe, (P)resent, (L)isten, and (E)nd — guides the steps to any customer encounter.

Being that it’s Apple, the extreme elements received major media attention:

  • Banned words: Strict guidelines are set for what geniuses can and can’t say. Banned words include "bomb," "crash" or "hang" while milder suggestions to describe computer problems include "unexpectedly quits" or "stops responding."
  • Non-verbal cues: One page provides lessons on reading customers’ nonverbal communication. For example, "Unbuttoned coat" signals cooperation; "Short breaths" spells frustration.
  • Associate call outs: A section called "Fearless Feedback" suggests phrases to express criticism to other associates, such as "deadly dull" or "disorganized."

Mr. Biddle states that the term "empathy" is "repeated ad nauseum" throughout the manual. One section offered role playing exercises for turning a negative viewpoint from the consumer into a positive. It instructs geniuses to follow the "Three Fs: Feel, Felt and Found. This works especially well when the customer is mistaken or has bad information."

If customers complain that Apple’s prices are too expensive, for example, genius staff are told to say: "I can see how you’d feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it’s a real value because of all the built-in software and capabilities."

Also being that it’s Apple, the manual received some praise for its empathy obsession while critics found the suggested wordplay and approaches to be manipulative and robotic.

Some wondered whether associate-training manuals from retailers with similar hyperbolic advice was standard protocol. A few reported Apple geniuses responding to the article indicated many of the extreme lessons — such as staff criticism code words — were generally ignored on the selling floor.

Gizmodo’s Mr. Biddle appears to conclude that regardless of the psychobabble, creating "good vibes" has been instrumental to Apple Stores’ success. Wrote Mr. Biddle, "No matter how much the Apple Store comes off as some kind of smiling likeminded computer commune, it’s still a store above all — just one that puts an enormous amount of effort behind getting inside your head."

Does Apple’s “Genius Training” manual seem extreme or exemplary? Overall, what role do store training manuals play in guiding and supporting customer service levels?

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19 Comments on "Apple Genius Training Secrets Revealed!"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Fourteen days of training for an underpaid retail worker seems exemplary. Role playing can be an effective technique for teaching interpersonal skills, especially to affluent people not initially comfortable in service roles.

The real issue of course is follow-up and post-training coaching — making sure the messaging stays consistent over time.

Oh, by the way, I wouldn’t worry too much about the danger of a vast mind control conspiracy — unless of course I was watching an excessive number of election-cycle ads.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 8 months ago

Hardly surprising. All successful retailers use tight operational and customer service guidelines backed with regular training and scheduled/unscheduled audits to ensure standards are indeed meet at store level. Engaging with customers is critical to the company’s success and I expected no less from Apple.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

No matter what you may feel about the Genius Training manual, it works. Apple Stores are happy places where consumers feel good. It’s never convenient for a computer to crash or malfunction. It’s frustrating at best. Finding empathy at the Genius Bar is a great way to begin the process of making frazzled consumers feel good.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago

Great companies and “Genius Training” manuals can be wrought at great risk as well as great reward. Few training manuals get inside heads or achieve the motivational level of a company’s visionary leader — and his books.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

As a PC user I am always amazed at the devotion Apple users have to their products. A great deal of this has to be due to the products themselves, but certainly some of the credit has to go to the people who work in the Apple stores.

The Apple owners I know have nothing but praise for the people in the stores, so the training seems to be working. Some may question the length of training or some of the techniques employed, but Apple stores enjoy loyal customers and fantastic sales.

Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

What a game they play and (if you aren’t consumed by frustration over your Mac problems) you can’t miss the predictable scripted language and behavior. By 21 they’re already robots. How sad.

Likewise in the speaking biz you can tell which speakers have been “coached” and, if you’ve been doing it as long as I have, you can tell who did the coaching, like a sommelier knowing what mountainside in France the wine came from.

One grand glorious day — and may it be soon — we will realize that the key to superior performance of any kind is learning to THINK.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I can’t imagine any RW commentators saying anything but positives. What I found interesting is the cynical comments on the original post. The contempt of setting standards in service in such a formalized way is a window into what retailers face training employees who may feel the same way.

Kevin Graff
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

14 days of training before hitting the sales floor. I think you could count on one hand how many other retailers invest the same amount of time training their staff … and likely each of these retailers would also be on a Top 10 list for best performance. Unfortunately, too many retailers are still in the “14 minute” category when it comes to training their staff … and their results show it, too.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I just don’t see anything wrong with the Genius training. In fact, consumer goods companies have used similar approaches for years, particularly for sales and accounts management training. The art of empathy, understanding customers, and the ability to influence them is all good in my book!

Joe Nassour
Guest
Joe Nassour
9 years 8 months ago

This explains much of the success that Apple enjoys. While they do have some breakout products initially, they end up playing catch up at the end.

Just look at the PC and now with the iPhone, they only have 17% of the market. Yet their customers and the media view them as the only game in town.

Clearly Apple has won the marketing game at all levels with customer satisfaction. I don’t think their approach is at all extreme.

Lee Kent
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

I think the Genius manual is genius in many ways. First off, the fact that they take 14 days to train says that they care about their employees’ success. They want to see them succeed and be armed for the frustrated customer. Who takes the time to prepare you for that anymore? They give their employees the tools they need to do a great job. Nuf said!

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
9 years 8 months ago

How much better would the retail world be if all other retailers cared enough to train employees the way Apple does? Any pundit who writes of Apple’s training with a lean toward derision is a fool. EVERY RETAILER should bust their britches to deliver products and services on a par with Apple. Anyone who thinks this isn’t an objective should be banished to doing business somewhere consumers really don’t have a choice, because that is the only place their enterprise will survive!

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Psychobabble? You’ve got to be kidding! Sounds like the very best of sales training, and nothing negative or nefarious about it.

Stan Barrett
Guest
Stan Barrett
9 years 8 months ago

Except in the case of when they are flat out wrong. Case in point: son’s old iPod wouldn’t boot, they attempted their “tried and true” solutions and told us it needed to be replaced. Went home, Googled the issue, reset iPod — worked for two years. Second time on daughters iPod touch; 2 hours of waiting for a genius to be available to tell us screen was cracked (we knew that) it would cost $150 for new glass or they recommended a screen cover which would “contain” the damage — for $20+. Kicker — they won’t put it on. Recommended a mall kiosk. Not sure about the raves — maybe when they fix a simple problem on a $2500 notebook it is different.

On the upnote, yes, 14 days of training is great, but to second a previous post, they do need to THINK. For top-notch service, give me a Ritz-Carlton employee in any capacity, housekeeper to General Manager any day of the week.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

My thoughts are rather the opposite of Steve’s, that is, I think that while some of the Apple Store’s success is due to the staff, most of it is surely due to the products.

What lessons can others learn? Know your products well(?)…certainly; empathize(?)… yes, to a point; euphemize(?)… I’m not sure: will a customer whose $89 T-shirt fell apart after one washing actually be made whole if you explain that fiber divergence is rare, and they really got value for their money?

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 8 months ago

Any criticism of this methodology is out of either misunderstanding, jealousy, hubris, or all of the above. Teaching staff to interact effectively with other people utilizing what amounts to emotional intelligence and common sense is critical and largely ignored by most retailers. The commitment to 2 weeks of formal training is among the best in all retail (Container Store rivals), and should only be emulated and heralded as the ‘secret sauce’ along with smart hiring practices and continuing present floor leadership and coaching.

Kai Clarke
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Great idea. Every sales person should read this, and more. Listen first then speak. The customer is always right (always). Customer Service First. 1 happy customer is worth no unhappy customers. Don’t speak until spoken to. Ask questions before “talking.” Disadvantage, Consequence, Value and Benefits. Focus on Benefits to the Consumer, not features of the product.

There are so many of these, that all stores should properly train their employees for 2 days, let alone 2 weeks. It is the difference between a “store” and a great retail shopping experience.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 8 months ago

I have to fall on the side of any retailer that overuses the word “empathy” in their training manual, as opposed to the legions of chains that overuse the words “up-sell” “add-on sell” and “buy on credit” in theirs. Like everything else Apple does, their employee training tends to fly in the face of long-held retail paradigms and therein lies the inability of others to replicate the Apple store experience.

The entire approach to Apple is and always has been radical and that’s why some people hate them and others love them. What you may notice, however, is that no one talks about the Microsoft store employee training. Largely because no one cares.

My only regret about Apple’s training is that employees at other retail stores around the continent can’t be required to study from it as well. Maybe we’d get better service everywhere.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
9 years 8 months ago

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding about the Apple Training manual. That manual, combined with strong actual training, the right staff and a strong culture, produce a customer experience that is rarely achieved anywhere else in retail in the world.

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